Iranian women shoulder to shoulder with men

August 17, 2011 - 13:10
Perhaps one significant triumph for Iranian women after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 is their undeniable and growing presence in the public sphere. Compared to previous decades and according to former traditional thinking when women used to stay at home and their life would be confined to household duties and raising children, particularly in smaller cities, while men worked and headed the family, now women from almost all walks of life have found ways to extend their existence even more into the society. The necessity of women’s participation in all socio-political activities since then is inevitable and because of the new Islamic laws, even highly religious and traditional families have opened up to the idea of sending their daughters to school and work. One could say that after the revolution, many opportunities were provided for religious women to exercise a degree of power over their lives.
Today, even though the domestic roles and family duties are not at all overlooked, Iranian women play a significant role in the social, economic, cultural and political flow of their country. Currently, women make 27 percent of the force work. And although in the ever watchful eyes of culture, breadwinning is still a male responsibility; men are no longer the sole breadwinners of the family. 

Women have also transcended gender roles in job markets. For instance prior to 1979 there were no women publishers in Iran but today there are about 500 woman publishers who have created employment for many women workers and even formed their own trade societies. In fact, many other specialists have formed their own trade associations such as women lawyers, female teachers and nurses. 
Compared to previous generations, one could say that working mothers are a new phenomenon in Iran, but the new generation of working women has evolved in many ways and no longer accepts a husband who does not share the load of housework. Although housework and cooking are still primarily considered as the responsibility of women but one can say that the attitude is changing and the general or perhaps hopeful view is that men are becoming more cooperative. One could even cautiously claim that compared to their fathers and other Middle Eastern men, Iranian men do more housework. This is more visible in a city like Tehran where single and married working women are more common. Day care centers outside and sometimes within working premises are also an option for working mothers.
It goes without saying that the road to success for working Iranian women is not smooth. Most women prefer to work in the state sector, because the job security it provides is an attractive incentive, but compared to private sectors the wages are low. Also under current economic circumstances women have been unable to obtain jobs commensurate with their education.  But all in all, whether as homemakers or workers, accountants or chief executives, scientists,  professors, artists or journalists, in all shapes and colors,  Iranian women have shown a great deal of courage, imagination and commitment in striving to rise above the social and cultural challenges that was and is ahead of them. 
The academia, a platform of many opportunities for Iranian women 
Looking at a newspaper clip dated 1968, I see a black and white photo of five Iranian women clad in lab coats, all PhD holders standing in front of Tehran University’s reactor and the title screams: One fourth of the future atomic scientists of Iran are females! And then right below that, as if to mellow the effect of the news, there is a cautious addition of words next to two black stars: How does one reconcile husbands and atoms? Iranian female atomic scientists love cooking and sewing as much as their work.
More than forty years later, the promise of women’s education seems somewhat fulfilled as the number of female students admitted to the university has dramatically risen and outnumbered the males. Presently the ratio of women to men in the academics is 60 to 40 percent. This is a remarkable social phenomenon in a generally male dominated society but like every trend in the country it has its own up and downsides. 
The 1979 revolution and Islamization of universities and educational institutions allowed traditionally conservative and religious families to permit higher education to girls. In the following decades, with more female teachers and professors in the employment scene, families were rarely observed to discriminate between male and female children when it came to education. 
The rise in the number of educated women has inevitably resulted in a change in the labor market. Women are fast transcending the traditional gender roles and not only stand as specialists in their fields but can also replace their male counterparts. From female office clerks and secretaries to factory engineers and architects, Iranian women play a significant role in the job market which is still nearly male oriented. Women as chief executives, head of banks or offices, meaning women who hold a position over subordinates, male or female are now a fact. 
On the other hand, education is also seen as means of gaining more freedom. Passing the university entrance exam is equivalent to many windows of opportunity particularly for those who do not reside in the capital. Higher education not only means earning greater freedom and social respect but is also a means of liberation and path to independence.  Many women postpone marriage until they are through with their academics. As a result, the average age of marriage among educated women has increased. This has led to alternation of the family structure and the fall of birthrate. It has been observed that the higher the educational status of a women, the greater are her social demands and that women who pursue education, often get married late and form smaller families. 
Womenomics and Iranian female entrepreneurs 
One of the main signs of progress and development in all countries is the impact of women’s role and the extent of their participation in social and economic activities.  Despite all social, cultural and even individual challenges, Iranian women have not only strove to prove their worth in their various fields of work in the recent years but have also come up with new and creative ways to boost their income, develop financial independence and contribute to the economy in general. 
A not so recent but somewhat successful trend in Iran is the act of entrepreneurship and its involvement of female aspirants. With unemployment as the biggest issue and the search for sources of income, self employment among men in general and women in particular is gaining recognition. A remarkable instance of women who have launched their own economic ventures in the recent years is Nayereh Aghaz who founded a taxi service with female drivers, dedicated exclusively to female passengers in the religious city of Qom. The service not only broke the gender barrier among taxi drivers but also gave many women the opportunity to highlight their capabilities and earn while offering tension free services to other female citizens.  Another instance is Jamileh Sadeghi who promoted the first female bus drivers in the country and is keen on establishing the first auto repair shop with female mechanics in near future. The number of successful women in entrepreneurship goes beyond this page. You may find more enlisted by the few associations dedicated to Iranian female entrepreneurs. 
Iranian women, power and passion in politics  
Less than fifty years ago, women in Iran gained the right to vote for the first time and since then they have held high positions in the government or parliament. After the revolution in 1979, women have always been present in the parliament and although the extent of their participation has fluctuated through the years, their active participation has somehow highlighted and impacted previous and existing norms of gender within the society and the government. The parliament in particular became a significant platform for women to consider, change and reform laws in favor of women. 
In the years after the revolution, the government has periodically been composed of several female advisers to presidents, female consultants to various ministers and hundreds of women in the position of authority. Through the years, they have also actively contributed to presidential, parliamentary and local elections. From major cities to small towns and villages women are elected to participate in the decision making and partly contribute to economic, political, social and cultural causes on a large and small scale.
A fine example is Iran’s first female Vice President, Masoumeh Ebtekar, during the administration of President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). A more recent instance is Iran’s first female government minister since the Islamic Revolution and the third female government minister in Iranian history, Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi . Dastjerdi who is a university professor and a former parliamentarian is currently Iran's minister of health and medical education.

Legal Rights 
Post marriage and housework 
It is common sense today that Iranian women work shoulder to shoulder with the men, particularly in these times of financial upheavals which make the issue of working women and their contribution a necessity.  It is a question of legal rights, however, when a working woman or a woman who is in the midst of earning a university degree decides to get married or is just keen on pursuing higher education after taking her vows. More than often, particularly in the major cities and among less traditional families, such issues are terms of an unspoken agreement and the woman continues to work and/or study even after her marriage. But sometimes, particularly in families with more traditional composition things are not so easy. 
After the revolution the new Family Law was issued and it put women in a somewhat stronger legal position compared to other laws pertaining to marriage in other Islamic countries. Based on this law and the fact that Muslim marriage is a contractual relationship, women are able to somehow secure a fairer marriage deal for themselves. Therefore, it is not uncommon for women who marry young but are keen on pursuing their education or work to discuss these issues with their spouse-to-be and make a decision about marriage only after ensuring an agreement that the union would not hinder their future of education and/or employment.
There is also another interesting law issued in 1992 and it states that Muslim housewives are entitled to wages for housework (ojrat ol-mesal). Presently, a man who intends to divorce his wife without proving fault on her part must first pay housework wages for the duration of the marriage. The law does in a way signify that women, their labor and contribution should not be taken for granted in any way. 
1- In Iran, women were granted the right to vote in 1963. Presently there are eight female members in the parliament which is actually 2.76 percent of the seats in the current Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis).
2- Women were first admitted to the universities in 1937. Professor Alenoush Terian who graduated from University of Tehran in Physics became Iran's first female physics Professor and astronomer in 1964. Female university professors have increased up to 30 percent after the revolution. 
3- The number of females who have taken the university entrance exam or have been accepted at universities has increased 25 times since the revolution while the population has multiplied over 2 times.
4- Before the Islamic Revolution, 35 percent of females were literate but it is estimated that currently 96.6 percent of females, between ages 9 to 26, are literate.
5- There are currently four universities in the country that offer Women Studies programs at the Master of Arts level. 
6- It is estimated that married working women do more housework compared to single women who more than often live with their families, where the work load is shared. 
7- Iran has over eight million female athletes.  The first publication dedicated exclusively to Iranian women’s sports is an online weekly magazine named Shirzanan (Literally ‘Lionesses’ or ‘Lion-Women’ in Persian) which covers news on women in sports inside and outside, particularly Muslim countries. 

Bizarre Buzz!
The Muse amuse at sixty!
Sometimes it does take a lifetime to discover our talents. Iranian painter Mokarrameh Ghanbari was an excellent example of a heuristic and self made artist who won several international prizes. Born in 1928 in the small village of Darikandeh, Mazandaran province, she began painting in her early sixties, inspired by some artist's paintings which her son had left at her home. For Mokarameh who was a farmer and a housewife, almost everything served as a canvas.  The bright, original colors of her brush inspired by the beautiful natural surroundings of her neighborhood could be found on the walls of the village, the roadside rocks and even the fridge and stove in her kitchen. She soon caught the eyes of international artists and in 2001 the Conference of the Foundation of Iranian Women's Studies in Stockholm named her the year's exemplary woman. She was also lauded as the "Female Painter of 2001" by the Swedish National Museum. She died at the age of 77 and is buried in the courtyard of her house.a